One might think that something as innate as breathing would be something we all do naturally well. Yet the way we breathe fulfils much more than a functional life-preserving role.
As babies, we are perfect breathing vessels, taking deep breaths in and out, as our abdomen rises and falls. However as we age, and our lives fill with stress, less optimal breathing patterns creep in. Due to the unconscious nature of breathing, we rarely pay it any attention. Breathing is just something we do, until, of course we don’t.
Daily mindful breathing brings a level of conscious thought and awareness to the breath. With each deep, long breath, muscle stress and tension is released, and endorphins (those feel-good hormones) are released, allowing feelings of happiness and wellbeing to replace those frazzled nerves present just a few moments earlier.
Mental stamina and clarity also improves with a deeper delivery of oxygen essential to body functioning. Stress signals are disabled as your body shifts from a state of stress to one of peace and calm, allowing your immune system to perform more optimally.
Here’s more good news, it only takes around 20 deep breaths per day, equating to around 15 minutes, to induce what Harvard physician Herbert Benson, termed the ‘relaxation response’.
He found that focused deep abdominal breathing ushers the body into a physical state of deep rest, altering the physical and emotional responses to stress, countering the body’s fight or flight response.
Initially breathing from the abdomen may feel counter-intuitive, as when you breathe in, your belly goes out, and when you breathe out, your belly goes in.
It takes a little practice but can be easily mastered. Yet mindful breathing is not solely about developing a deep breathing practice, it is about focused time connected to your breath. With many mindful breathing practices, it is really important to find a method that works best for you. You can even alternate practices depending on mood and setting.
Popular methods include counting breaths from 1 – 10 and then back again, with each number being one complete breath. Or cycles of 9, alternating 3 breaths in one nostril and out the other, and repeating on the other side, then culminating with 3 breaths through both nostrils. Or simply begin by taking deep breaths from your abdomen, and once relaxed, try and stay focused on your breath. It is only natural for your mind to wander, so approach this practice in a spirit of friendliness and without judgment.
Checking in with your breath at different times of the day enables you to pay attention to your breathing. Is it shallow and quick, or calm and relaxed? Or perhaps you might even be unconsciously holding your breath, which often occurs during moments of deep concentration. The important thing is not to wait until the perfect zen moment to begin a mindful breathing practice.
In fact taking some time out to just breathe during stressful periods is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your wellbeing.
Just 15 minutes will liberate your mind from the onslaught of competing demands vying for its attention and help restore flagging energy levels.
Why not take a moment now to focus on your breath? Perhaps even close your eyes to deepen your awareness. Place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Take two breaths in and out and observe which hand moves more. Does your breath stem more from your chest or your belly? How fast is it? How deep is it? How are you feeling right now?
When we spend time connected to our breath, we connect to our true self.
Ancient kabbalists note that in biblical Hebrew, the word ‘to breathe’ shares the same root as the word for soul. So why not ‘take a breather’ now. What better way to replenish your mind, body and spirit?
In love and laughter